Siol nan Gaidheal

Energy in Scotland

Energy in Scotland

Scotland is uniquely endowed with abundant and diverse energy resources, having substantial fossil fuel reserves, hydroelectric potential, and being ideally placed in Europe for the exploitation of wind and wave power. In addition the nuclear sector provides more electricity per capita than almost anywhere else in the world. It is undeniably crucial that this diverse portfolio of energy resources be managed for the benefit of the Scottish people and land. The issues raised in doing so are irreducibly complex, involving much that cannot be resolved, including the competing claims of the economy and the environment, and matters of supranational significance such as the emission of greenhouse gases and the disposal of radioactive waste. They also impinge on countless other areas of policy, such as transport and the environment.

It is possible to steer one's way through this however with the guidance of a set of priorities informed by an authentic set of interests, those of the people and the land, rather than those of a consumer culture which atomises interests and permits only individual solutions to social questions. It is unfortunate that at present policy regarding energy is driven by the insatiable demands of a consumer culture cosseted by those who direct the UK project. Rather the demand itself should be educated away from the course it is setting us on. This is not possible with the current odious political settlement under which we labour. It can not be considered conducive to this that our large nuclear output is deployed to ease the dynamics of a grid geared to supplying the South East of England, the hub of this corrosive culture of self-interest, while our renewables are underexploited.

It remains scandalous that the essentially 19th century technologies of wave power and wind turbines were not developed to commercial fruition in Scotland, the country most suited in Europe to such developments, and a world lead squandered that would have sustained Scottish industry, because the nuclear lobby ensured it was starved of funds. It is not difficult to discern here the overlapping agendas of the British state in the selection of technologies that will feed the British bomb with fissile material and the simultaneous stifling and rejection of those that may help support economic structures upon which Scottish society has relied and which must be dismantled as part of the ongoing UK project. In general the proper management of Scotland's unique endowment of natural resources is bedevilled by foreign priorities.

It is clear already that certain measures are necessary. The ongoing farce at Dounreay must be drawn to a close. Only recently we have been subjected to a flurry of press releases about the latest discoveries of radioactive particles on public beaches. The UKAEA state that the particles are only the size of a grain of sand as if in mitigation. This is typical of their contempt for the rational public. A sand sized particle is more likely to be ingested and enter the food chain, posing a much greater hazard than if it was left biologically inert. They displayed a similar contempt when claiming that plutonium that could not be accounted for which amounted to enough to make 14 suitcase weapons represented a negligible error in their accounting procedures. A car with a fuel management system that performed similarly would be immediately withdrawn. In the context of their latest set of blunders they have been prompted by the vigilance of the SEPA to admit that an offshore depository for waste whose existence had not previously been revealed is a possible source of the particles. One wonders if the only reason the closed reprocessing facility at Dounreay was reopened to process the notorious Georgian waste was because it was further away from London than Le Havre, the more obvious choice of facility.

A further measure deemed necessary is the immediate decommissioning of Magnox nuclear reactors which lack secondary confinement. Although the airspace around them is prohibited to aircraft, one can watch it being violated on a weekly basis, often by military Tornadoes. The decommissioning of nuclear power stations has very little impact on employment, as the numbers employed in the decommissioning are roughly on a par with those involved in the operation and maintenance of these facilities. Decommissioning takes roughly a century, possibly longer as such estimates have historically been revised upwards by the nuclear industry. It is also noted that the reduction in the time allotted for routine maintenance of nuclear power stations is unworkable and must inevitably be reversed.

The long term future of nuclear power is often linked to the consequences of the emission of greenhouse gases associated with other methods of power generation. This however assumes the perpetuation of the culture and requirements that prevail at present. Any attempt to ameliorate the environmental consequences of power generation that addresses only the supply of power and not the demand for it is doomed to be superficial and futile. However the demand is related to a philosophy that can only tolerate superficial solutions. We live in a world of pointless profligacy, stranded amidst our material wealth in a condition of spiritual impoverishment. The only valid choice is one ultimately based on individual consumer whim, decision rendered meaningless by the indistinguishable options presented to us in a variety of gaudy packaging, and discernment and rationality wither under the onslaught of the insubstantial imagery and misinformation of a world siphoned and filtered to us through corporate PR machines representing interests necessarily divergent from our own. And the trough from which the swill spills around and about is the British State and its collaboration with the project of globalization.

Estimates of the power output obtainable from windpower while maintaining the current quality of supply are historically revised upwards. At the moment, while maintaining the current quality and security of supply, renewables could at most provide about half the power output of Torness nuclear power station. One must also consider the environmental intrusion of wind farms, which nevertheless can be alleviated with paint and acoustic enclosures. The need to maintain the quality and security of supply which places restrictions on the full exploitation of renewables is necessitated in part by the inauthentic priorities outlined above. One may take as an alternative model the scheme recently completed on the Isle of Muck, where a wind turbine is used in conjunction with a diesel generation plant independently of the grid to reduce the unit cost of electricity dramatically. Locally based schemes that exploit renewable resources in combination with local pump storage may offer a means of supporting and building more dispersed communities and offer a solution based at a community level. Loads that rely critically on the quality and security of supply only offered by the grid will nevertheless still be placed on it, but the release of renewables from the need to meet the same requirements of quality and security of supply provides an opportunity for their more extensive exploitation in a manner that helps to educate demand away from the spiritually corrosive doctrines of consumerism. The philosophy that informed the early days of the hydroboard, the extension of the grid to remote communities on a socially rather than commercially motivated basis, may even reach its conclusion, a repopulation of the highlands devastated by the agendas of the UK project.

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